Friday, 30 September 2011

Appalling waste of public money

I’M all for a bit of adventure and, whilst I’m not much of an outdoor type, I have always had a sneaky admiration for those who pit their wits against the elements in the cause of exploration.

And whilst I’m sure Devon artist-explorer Alex Hartley is one of those rare individuals who relishes such challenges, I’m afraid I cannot appreciate his efforts in bringing a little bit of the Arctic Circle back to these shores in the name of art.

Alex won a competition for £500,000 of funding to represent the South West region as part of the Cultural Olympiad to run alongside next year’s Olympics. With 18 volunteers, Alex excavated about six tonnes of material from an island exposed by a glacier on the Svalbard peninsular in Norway.

The material, which has been loaded onto a schooner sailing vessel, will be sculpted into a piece of art called “Nowhere Island” and will be floated along the South West coast next year, starting in Weymouth in July and passing Exmouth in August. With a strong pair of binoculars, you might just get a glimpse of it as it floats through Lyme Bay. I bet you can’t wait!

The story has caused a huge furore in our region following coverage on BBC Spotlight this week and prompted letters of astonishment to our MP.

Good luck to Alex for coming up with the idea but to spend half a million pounds on what amounts to no more than a pile of rocks on a raft in these difficult financial days is barmy touching on the ridiculous.

I’m a self-confessed philistine when it comes to art, but there are better and more effective ways of spending such a huge amount of money. Take our own Marine Theatre which is being kept afloat by a £30,000 grant by the town council to stay in business, a decision which is not wholly popular in the town and which will inevitably be reduced in time. They can’t get a penny from the Arts Council whose government funding, in turn, has been greatly reduced. All the more reason why they should spend their money wisely.

There are numerous other worthy art projects and artists in the South West far more deserving of support.

What is even more galling is the pathetic efforts of the head of the Arts Council in the South West when he tried to defend the project on BBC Spotlight.

He said that over 250,000 people would “engage” with the project. Where did that figure come from and excuse me for being slightly sceptical about engaging with such a blatant and apalling waste of public funds.

And then he made the ludicrous statement that it cost £2 per person, much cheaper than a price of a theatre ticket. Those of us who live in the real world would much prefer to go to the theatre than watch a load of rocks float by. It was a stupid and naive analogy that fooled no one.
Because of the publicity “Nowhere Island” has generated, I have no doubt people will turn out to see it if only out of curiosity.

But I won’t be one of them.

Work behind closed doors

IN my assessment a couple of columns ago of our enthusiastic new council I came to the opinion that the new members had made a steady but unspectacular start.

Some thought this was a little ungenerous and I have been hauled over the coals for not giving credit to the amount of work the newly-elected members are doing outside the council chamber, and I’m not referring to the cosy after-meeting drinks at the Nags Head.

I am aware that much valuable and important work goes on behind the scenes, not in the public arena, and I am happy to acknowledge that.

I know that some very tricky negotiations are underway with the district council over the future operation of the Monmouth Beach car park, led by new policy chairman Mark Gage, and that Rickey Austin is working very diligently on affordable housing particularly in relation to the number of unoccupied premises in the town.

Anita Williams and Lorna Jenkin have also done some fine work on the fight to save our library.

This is not a new phenomenon, of course, even going back to my day. I can well remember going down to the Monmouth Beach car park very early one Good Friday morning only to find Stan Williams on his hands and knees painting in the white lines because the council had no staff available.

It’s not just all hot air, you know.


THE inspiring B Sharp music project in Lyme Regis, run with such infectious enthusiasm by Fran Williams, encourages youngsters to express themselves through music of all genres.

And they don’t come more young at heart than veteran pianist Jack Marshall, of Uplyme, who at 97 years old showed the youngsters a note or two during the ‘Busking Beside The Sea’ day, part of ArtsFest over the weekend.

To the delight of the large crowd at the Marine Parade performance area on Saturday, Jack bashed out all the old favourites, much to the admiration of all who were listening. It was a brilliant idea and next year Fran is going to make sure everyone has a song sheet so they can join in.

Hopefully, there will be more of this al-fresco entertainment in the new shelters, and not just during ArtsFest.

The busking day was a huge success, attracting professional jazz pianist Philip Clouts and concert pianist Ken Redford as well as B Sharp performers at various locations around town and involving dozens of passers-by.

They all deserve an encore!

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